A Red Flag for McCain

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Mar 02, 2008 10:25 PM

As noted here, Barack Obama sometimes uses traditionalist rhetoric to great effect.   Here's the most recent example, in a valentine from the Times of London:

“Turn off the TV set, put the video game away. Buy a little desk or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don’t know how to do it, give them help. If you don’t know how to do it, call the teacher. Make them go to bed at a reasonable time. Keep them off the streets. Give them some breakfast. Come on! And since I’m on a roll, if you’re child misbehaves in school, don’t cuss out the teacher! Do something with your child!”

John McCain had better beware.  Just as only Nixon could have gone to China, Barack Obama is perfectly positioned to criticize social pathologies of the sort that might result in other candidates being called condescending or racist, if they were to address them in the same way.  That's a tremendous advantage, and one that he can productively use to appeal to independents (or even conservatives) who are eager to hear an elected leader offer what sounds like good plain common sense to normal people outside the Beltway.

All this means that McCain is going to need to find a way to discuss these social/cultural issues as well -- without sounding like a grumpy old man yelling at the kids or a captive of the (gasp!) dreaded "religious right."  None of this will be easy for him -- judging from what Rick Santorum told Hugh Hewitt, McCain seems to be part of that strain of Republicans who are uncomfortable speaking out about cultural or social issues lest they be deemed (gasp, again!) "judgmental."

But it's necessary.  At least one prominent cultural conservative has already said (off the record) that he is impressed with Obama's supposed willingness to tell "hard truths." The last thing McCain needs is (1) for Barack to use this rhetoric to suggest to independents that he's not as far left as his policies clearly are; and (2) for conservatives who are less-than-enchanted by the GOP nominee to decide that, notwithstanding his other leftist policies, Obama's a gamble worth taking for sake of the culture.